Brett Morris: Picture: JEREMY GLYN
Brett Morris: Picture: JEREMY GLYN

As advertising industry margins come under increasing pressure agencies need to master agile, high-value content to meet the insatiable demands for video, says Brett Morris, group CEO of FCB.

“Importantly, agile does not mean fast,” he says. “Agile means responsive and able to adapt and be more efficient in how you execute. That may sometimes mean that you can use less money, but it could also mean that you get more value for the money you spend. Which is why, more and more, as technology makes the production process more accessible, we need to find smarter ways to create that high-value content.”

Morris says the agency is cognisant of the threat consulting firms pose in terms of big data and analytics and the way to process that data more effectively. The agency is therefore investing significantly in both data and analytics – but only in so far as it overlaps with storytelling. “As far as we are concerned, no matter how advanced the data analytics become, it will never eliminate the need for great storytelling. The challenge is marrying the two; and that’s very difficult to do without a deep understanding of the creative process,” he says.

The big take-out: Advertising agencies need to master agile, high-value content to meet the insatiable demands for video if they are to remain sustainable.

FCB Joburg won the overall advertising agency of the year award at AdFocus as well as the large agency of the year award, the latter for the second year in a row. It’s a combination of things that sets the agency apart, says Morris. “It’s about having a balanced approach to the business, making sure that we give equal attention to our creative product, revenue growth and, perhaps most importantly, transformation. If we get all of those right it hopefully shows in the results, and it certainly has in the past few years.”

Though it operates in an industry that frequently comes under fire for its slow rate of change, FCB Joburg has managed to achieve a level 1 BBBEE rating. Transformation, says Morris, is not something that can happen “on the side”. It has to be the centre of your business. At FCB that means “using all the available resources, knowledge and creativity to help redress the injustices of the past and create an inclusive economy that is sustainable for all South Africans,” says Morris. “That’s easy to say, but to achieve it requires an unwavering commitment from all levels of the business, both philosophically and financially. This has been the case at FCB for decades, long before B-BBEE was legislated.”

For FCB transformation has never been just about the numbers, but rather about authentic empowerment, diversity and inclusion, says Morris. “It’s about making a meaningful impact. This is reflected in our shareholding, which is not reliant on modified flow-through and is now fully unencumbered across investors, staff and our broad-based partner.”

Beyond this the agency works hard at developing the next generation of talent, with a graduate programme that’s been running for more than 20 years and a number of internal leadership development programmes.

“As an industry we still have a long way to go and even though the agency is ahead of the curve we believe we have a broader role to play,” says Morris. “When we are truly representative of the demographic of the country we will have completed some of the journey, but we think there is always more we can do.” 

The reason so many agencies are not getting transformation right, he believes, is that they see transformation as a largely theoretical exercise and are more interested in ticking boxes or looking for loopholes that don't require any meaningful commitment from the business. “Unfortunately there are some agencies that claim to be majority black owned but are actually just elaborate structures that are encumbered by debt and never make any meaningful impact,” Morris says.

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